The Cherry on Top

July 9, 2014

The summer sunlight is warming up my days from mornings to nights. Then comes the brief, but pouring summer rain to cool off the earth... and my mind... leaving me soaking wet with a smile on my face and a song on my lips. But, the cherry on top is the rainbow that arcs across the sky, shining with its awesome colours only to remind me that "you need both the sun and the rain to make its colours appear". 
Good things are happening here. Mostly good things are happening here...
Cherries are in season and I have been indulging in our locally grown fruits and just can't get enough. Cherry tart, cherry syrup on pancakes and ice cream, cherry smoothies and cherry mini loaves for breakfast... And the cherry on top is the picking-your-own fresh and juicy stone fruits from the cherry tree, climbing up a limb, plucking these jewels off a branch and carelessly eating them with your red coloured fingers. Cherry after cherry after cherry. Perhaps, in the summer, life might really be "just a bowl of cherries". 
These lovely days of blue skies and gentle breezes are perfect for picnics. So, I am calling friends, packing the picnic basket with leisurely meals, market-inspired recipes and cherries. Together we are going to the country side, finding the perfect picnic spot and spreading a blanket on the ground. Looking at our children lying on the grass makes me press my face into the ground, smell the black, rich dirt and feel the good Earth. The cherry on top is this delicious feeling of being removed from time, alive and happy, this warm energy flowing into and out of my body that, I guess, is nothing else, but faith in the goodness of life.
Then comes the special day of my son's 16th birthday. Overwhelming love, and care, and gratitude make every moment more than a celebration. Cakes with lots of chocolate, special meals and summer refreshers, fancy clothes and presents.... But, the cherry on top of everything is this kind, thoughtful and intelligent young man that never stops to amazes me, challenges me to grow right along with him and inspires me to be better than I am.
When hearts are open, love is flowing, life seems easy and good things happen.
An email arrived in my mailbox. Toronto Mom Now, in an effort to recognize the wonderful writing and work of Toronto mom bloggers, are running an annual nomination for 2014 Top 30 Toronto Mom Bloggers. With this email, they informed me that after reviewing all the nominees, they narrowed the list down to 30 and I (with my blog) am one of them. What a surprise and good news!  They are also choosing one overall top blogger as a Top Mom Blogger for 2014. Though I really do not like such a voting process I would highly appreciate a vote. If you wish once more to show your support, you can click on Sylvia's Simple Life here.  The voting is open until July 14. And the cherry on top of all this is the fact that I was nominated by an unknown kind reader of the blog to whom I am immensely thankful to. So, you really never know who is reading your blog, but what I know for certain is that you, dear readers,  are the cherry on top of my blog and I love you all!

the cherry on top (or on the cake)
 * a desirable feature perceived as the finishing touch to something that is already very good.  
 * the last good thing after many other good things. 
(Oxford Dictionaries) 

Green Summer Goodness

June 27, 2014

Farmers markets are operating at full speed all across the city almost in every neighbourhood. As a local newspaper pointed recently "Summer is time for Torontonians to remember they're surrounded by incredible greenery to the north, south, east and west - and not just on weekend road trips." I honestly feel blessed to be able to buy local, eat local and support local farmers and food artisans. Close to where we live, there is a charming farmer's market that can be found in the parking lot of the historic Montgomery's Inn every Wednesday. I love visiting there; not only is it a small uncrowded place, but also it welcomes farmers from around the province who come there to sell their sustainably grown products. After your third visit, you know all of them and they are happy to chat with you about their veggies and fruits, what is in season, when the cherries are coming, the exact time the strawberries you are about to buy are being picked... and other passions of the farmer's heart. On top of that, probably the most interesting offerings at the market, are the fresh baked breads, which are made in the Inn wood-fired oven. 
This past Wednesday, the market was GREEN. From baby kale to lettuce, sorrel, arugula, and all kinds of fresh herbs, Ontario's growing season was starting to release its bounty. I bought my kale and garlic scapes from the young farmer who looked as if he had just popped up from the pages of Anne of Green Gables. I have always wanted to take his photo, but he seems so humble, shy, vain-less, in love with what he is doing, that I always feel as this is going to be the most inappropriate and uncomfortable thing I would have done in such a moment. Perhaps, next time I will feel more confident to ask (Nith Valley Organics sells at the market every Wednesday). I didn't have any idea in mind what I am going to do with my greens. My men, especially my teenage son, are not big fans of kale, despite the evidence of it being the "superfood". So, I thought of making something more versatile that can be added to other foods. Pesto! Easy, tasty, healthy, a wonderful way to enjoy fresh greens; can be put on pizza, pasta, soups, salads, topped on chicken and vegetables.
I mixed kale, garlic scapes, basil, pecans, and before even pouring the pesto into jars had a slice of crusty red wine walnut bread from the marker's bakery spread with this fresh green summer goodness.

Ah, Summer! 

"When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is."  (Alice Waters)                                                                           

Homemade Pesto with Kale & Garlic Scape


1 1/2 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
2/3 cup ground pecans 
(walnuts or pine nuts would be great also)
1/3 basil leaves 
1 tsp. sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2/3 cup olive oil 
1 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese


In a food processor, pulse together kale, garlic scapes, pecans, basil leaves, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper until coarsely ground. 
While processor is running, add olive oil. Process until just combined. Add grated parmesan cheese until smooth.
Store in glass jars and refrigerate for up to one week.
Makes 2 jars of 250ml. 

Have a wonderful Canada Day weekend and Happy Fourth of July! 

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Peony Season

June 17, 2014

It is this time of year again when peonies adorn my world and make my heart sing. I wait for the seasons to pass for peonies to bloom and spread their scent and flamboyant, yet impermanent beauty. I might be so in love with these big perfect colourful flower heads because they are as beautiful and fragile as life itself. They won't last forever; their heartbreakingly short time in bloom will always remind us nothing is permanent and nothing will be, so the only chance we have is to be present, to pay attention, to take nothing for granted, to enjoy the moment, to be amazed and grateful, to live life as it is...
Last Sunday, on Father's Day, my son and I took Dad to the Peony Festival in Oshawa. Isn't it a great gift to a man who loves flowers, takes care of them, appreciates beauty in all its forms and, most importantly, lives life to the fullest. It was magical and even overwhelming with all the 300 types of peonies (one of Canada's largest contemporary peony collections) displayed at the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden. They were like a symphony orchestra where every musical instrument produces the perfect sound only to add its colour and character to the orchestra creating the most incredible musical performance...


What makes your heart sing these days?

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Kingston - Ontario's Treasure

June 4, 2014

It has been said that "Kingston is one of Canada's best-kept secrets". I believe it is not so anymore since if I share with somebody how much I love this city, their faces light up, they smile and tell me that Kingston is one of their favourite cities as well. Midway between Toronto and Montreal, where the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario, Kingston is a charming historic little town that consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in Canada. Kingston was named the first capital of the Province of Canada in 1841 and while its time as a political centre was short, the city has remained an important cultural, educational and military place. Nicknamed the "Limestone City" because of the many heritage structures built with local limestone, Kingston always reminds me of Europe and evokes memories of my childhood. It possesses a small-town charm combined with "big-city" amenities. 
No matter when you visit, Kingston offers pleasant times at the pristine waterfront, theatres, museums, one-of-a-kind shops, art galleries, restaurants, sidewalk patios, festivals... During winter we enjoy an outdoor skate to music on Kingston's Historic Market Square ice ring. When summer comes we come to Kingston to witness The Sunset Ceremony at the Fort Henry National Historic Site that re-creates 19th-century military life featuring Guard Drums, Drill Squad and Artillery Detachments, military music and drills along with rousing big-bang artillery manoeuvres and simulated battles. Spring is perfect for taking in a 1000 Island cruise and discovering the area's glorious natural beauty. A year-round farmer's market at the historic downtown, right behind the Kingston City Hall (designated National Historic Site of Canada) offers quality local products, plants, flowers, and handmade crafts. On Sunday, a fabulous Antique Market would satisfy every antique and vintage lover as myself. I guarantee! 
And if you are coming from Toronto, the best way to reach Kingston is to take The Loyalist Parkway, a scenic 100-kilometre drive stretching along the shoreline of Lake Ontario and passing through about 40 archeological sites and 125 historical buildings, a worthwhile ride in its own right. This route is packed with opportunities for swimming, fishing, boating, picnicking and B&Bs. The road ends at the Glenora Ferry, which you in your car (or bike) will take to cross Adolphus Reach to the peninsula, which makes the trip a real adventure. And if you decide to take this route in spring, like we did, bushes of blooming lilacs will add a pleasant fragrance to your getting to Kingston. If you haven't yet visited the Limestone City, make yourself this gift of Ontario's treasure "where history and innovation thrive." (Kingston's motto)

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Dandelion Muffins

May 31, 2014

Ever since I saw the first yellow, sun-like flower of the season, I was sure I am going to cook with it.
This plant, a bothersome weed for those who want a luscious and perfect like a golf course lawn, is a tasty edible flower, a nutrient-dense green believed to be some of the oldest plants on the planet. Throughout history, the dandelion has been known as super food, herbal medicine and delicious, sunshine-filled drink. Remember Ray Bradbury's novel "Dandelion Wine"? With his lyrical writing style, the author portrays the dandelion as a glorious flower, harvested every year by the boy's grandfather for dandelion wine that would keep all of the summer joys into a single bottle for when the winter season comes.

"The boys bent, smiling. They picked the golden flowers. The flowers that flooded the world, dripped off lawns onto brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows and  and agitated themselves so that on all sides lay dazzle and glitter of molten sun.

"Every year", said Grandfather. "They run amuck; I let them. Pride of lion in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, noble thing, the dandelion.
So, plucked carefully in sacks, the dandelions were carried below. the cellar dark glowed with their arrival, the wide press stood open, cold. A rush of flowers warmed it.
The press, replaced, its screw rotated, twirled by Grandfather, squeezed gently on the crop.
The golden tide; the essence of this fine, fair ran, the gushed from the spout below to cropped, skimmed to ferment, and bottled in clean ketchup shakers, then ranked in sparkling rows in cellar gloom.
Dandelion wine.
The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer, sought and stopped..."

Every part of the dandelion is edible both raw and cooked, from the roots to the blossoms. The leaves can be use in salads, also steamed or added to a stir-fry or soup. The roots can be dried and roasted and are commonly used as a coffee substitute or a cleansing and detoxifying tea. The yellow flowers are sweet with honey-like taste and can be eaten raw, put in bread and cakes and, of course, used to make dandelion wine. Herbalists and nutritional experts report the dandelion is highly nutritious and can treat a variety of ailments. A rich source of vitamin A, C, fibre, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, trace minerals, antioxidants, and protein, the plant helps to treat anemia, heart problems, acne, liver and kidney disease and mainly digestive complaints. 
What impresses me the most is the fact that the dandelion flower opens its arms each morning, collects the sunlight of the entire day, and folds its arms again at the day's end. Eating a dandelion is like nibbling on a little slice of sun, isn't it...

Dandelion Muffins 

The recipe is based on one from the inspiring book by Miche Bacher "Cooking with Flowers", which I presented here.  


2 cups unbleached flour (or 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour)

2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dandelion petals, washed
1/2 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
1/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cups milk
5 tbsp honey
 1 egg


Preheat oven to 375 F. Line standard muffin tin with paper liner or coat pan with non-stick spray.

Mix together the dry ingredients- flour, baking powder, salt, dandelion petals, apricots, and almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, honey and oil. Beat in the egg. 
Add liquid ingredients to dry and mix by hand to combine (hands prevents overmixing). Pour the wet batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of muffin comes out clean.  

* The dandelion is generally considered safe in food; however some people may have allergic reactions to it. Gather dandelion flowers from areas free of chemical treatments or fertilizer. Pick in a sunny part of the day, so the flowers are fully open and prepare right away. Once picked, they do not last long.  

Happy June to all of you! 

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May 18, 2014

There is a Zen story about a monk who while climbing a steep mountain was confronted by a ferocious tiger that was blocking his path. Below him, the cliff fell away to gaping chasm. While the monk was deciding what to do next, he turned his gaze to the mountainside in front of his face and his eyes fell upon a tiny plant that somehow had managed to root itself in a crevice. The plant's single stem was holding a perfect wild strawberry, ripe and red and glistening in dew. The monk reached out his hand, plucked the little fruit, pressed it against his tongue, and closed his eyes in delight.  
Striving to live in the present moment, I love to go back to this short tale, especially in times of adversity, and remind myself to carpe diem and savour the moment. It is so small of an effort, after all, to embrace the sunlight in the morning, to dive in the joy of bathing in the breeze, and to simply pay attention to your life's "strawberries".
Month of May, in all its splendor, is filled with those simple pleasures that make us close or rather widely open our eyes and immerse ourselves in the pure bliss of what is real right now. From being woken up in the morning with the trilling song of the sparrow, through the greeting smiles of the tiny dew drops on the tulips and the ephemeral beauty of the cherry blossoms to the velvet lawns covered with pink magnolia petals and the inviting air after rain, the freshness and the newness of the world around us is mind-bogging. The possibilities of pleasant life are right at hand if we only notice and choose to live fully. It is a spiritual awakening.
And then in May, we honor our mothers with one of my favorite celebrations - Mother's Day. I have to share, I had the most joyous and special of celebrations filled with simple joys, peace and love. I entirely followed my thoughtful son's plan for the day and I was gifted with a stop at the flower market and a big pot of lavender; a brunch at one of the beautiful little kitchen & bar restaurants in the city where the French press coffee is served in vintage china, the water is poured from Bulleit Bourbon jugs and little bunches of lavender are tables' centrepieces; a time for antiquing at my favorite store only to find the most charming of old photographs, and of course, the ultimate gift of delicate, beautiful and certainly flavourful French macarons from one of the most impressive patisseries in town... 
But above all, my heart is full with gratefulness and joy of the fact that our almost sixteen-year-old boy has learned how to appreciate the simple things that make up our daily life worth living and how to create pleasure for himself and others. I hope, in times of disappointments and difficulties, he will be able to notice the tiny wild strawberry, reach out his hand and pick this priceless jewel of the present moment. Life is full and honest when we do not focus on the "tigers"of the past or the future, but rather on the beautiful "strawberry" within arm's reach, here and now.  
Month of May makes me put my apron more often than ever and bake the prettiest and most simple tea cake with berry jam and meringue topping out of my mom's recipe journal she gifted me years ago... Perhaps because I am a seeker of "strawberry" moments...

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